Dungeons & Dragons for New Adventurers: A Comprehensive Guide

So, you’re all caught up on Stranger Things and your interest has piqued.

You subsequently watched the new trailers for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, witnessed a horned woman transform into a massive owl-monster and it officially settled in your mind: You want to go on an adventure too!

If you’re anything like me when I first answered the alluring call of Tabletop role-playing games, you started by looking up how D&D was played and were immediately overwhelmed. I know. It’s a lot to take in. There are different editions of the game, multiple rulebooks, story modules, dice sets, character races, classes, subclasses, backgrounds …

Fear not, my friends! I’m going to make this easier for you to go on your very own quest to save that quaint, little village from the ruthless warband of Orcs so you and your companions can get ale-for-life at the local tavern. Or gold. Gold is good too.

First things first, the most important thing to remember about D&D is that it is, at its core, all about storytelling. Since our beginning, human beings have gathered around fires and told stories about great heroes who defeated giant monsters with the help of their friends. This is essentially the same thing, only with resin dice, miniature figurines and – probably – less need to hunt for your snacks.

Storytellers: The Dungeon Master and The Players

A Dungeons & Dragons board game.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

To begin a game, you’ll first need a Dungeon Master (DM.) The DM is the narrator/curator/engine that moves the story along. They build out the world for the players to exist in, describing each environment and its inhabitants in as much detail as they want, to provide the best possible theater-of-the-mind experience for all involved. (If you’re really lucky, you’ll get maps and other fun visual aids, but that’s for later.)

The beauty of this particular game is the room for creativity. There’s no real limit! Sure, your notes might say the Dwarf barkeep is sporting a big, red beard. But, if you’re feeling more of a blue mustache on the day, have at it!

Taking on the seat of the DM gives you full reign of the world, its citizens, order of events and whatever else your mind can conjure. Let your imagination run wild! Your players will thank you for it.

Then, there is the other side of the table: The players. Just as integral to the game as the DM, the players are the main characters of the story you are all trying to tell. It’s the player’s job to create their character and play with the DM to tell their story. After the stage is set, the players make decisions and roll the dice to see if they succeed. Boiled down to its base elements, D&D is a massive game of improv.

So now you’ve got some friends together and one has heroically volunteered to be the DM. You’re gonna need some supplies!

Gear Up: Every Adventurer Needs Supplies

As the designated Dungeon Master, you will need a few things to get started.

First up: A Dungeon Master’s Screen. You can buy one online pretty much anywhere OR you can go old-school and stand up a binder or a few open folders. The point of this is to have a place to put all of your notes, story beats and enemy statistics where your players can’t see them. It’s also a great way to build tension when you randomly roll your dice and the players look back at you with fear in their eyes, wondering what just happened.

You’ll also need a Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG.) The DMG is the go-to, comprehensive guide/rulebook for D&D 5th edition. It has everything you’d need to build out your world. There are magical items and treasure lists to reward your players as well as various monsters and their correlating statistics. You can also find plenty of world-building tips and advice for creating dungeons your party won’t soon forget!

As players, you’ll need a few things too.

Most importantly: A Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (PHB.) The PHB is the core rulebook for every player that has everything you’ll need to build your character, roll for your stats and refer to your abilities as you go. I’m in the midst of a three-and-a-half year campaign and I still bring mine with me every time I play.

Once you have your PHB, you’ll want to grab a Character Sheet. This will be where you record all of your character’s stats, equipment, abilities, Health, Armor Class and money. You’ll also need a pencil and an eraser. I’d recommend multiple erasers because you’ll be using them a lot.

The DM Screen, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook and Character Sheets are all available at most bookstores or game shops. You can also order them online from Amazon.

Both the DM and the players are going to need a set of Tabletop Role-Playing Game (TTRPG) Dice. These are not the standard 6-sided die that you may be used to. These dice sets come with a D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and a D20. TTRPG Dice sets are also sold at game shops, but I like to scour Etsy because they’ve got an amazing selection handmade by individual artists. You never know what you’ll find!

Building Your World: Setting the Scene and Creating Characters

A Dungeons & Dragons game board
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Now you’ve got your adventuring party, you’ve got your Dungeon Master and you’ve got your supplies … now to create! As the DM, you’ve got 2 options.

  • Option A: Modules
  • Option B: Homebrew

Modules are pre-written worlds and stories that you can play through. There are characters, cities, major events and story points already laid out for you in the text. You will guide your players through the book in your own way and, by the end, you’ve told a complete story. You can buy these modules at any Barnes & Noble or game shop.

There is a very handy Starter Kit released by Wizards of the Coast that I highly recommend. My first-ever session was with the Starter Kit and my friends. It’s a great jumping-off point for new players!

Homebrew is a term used to describe things that the DM has created from their imagination. Remember when I said the rules were guidelines? This is where that comes into play. You want to make a Displacer Beast pink? By all means. It’s your world! You decide where your story begins and, with the player’s help, where it goes from there.

For the player, this next step is where their creativity can really take flight. It’s time to build your character! The first thing you’ll want to do is choose your race. D&D has a fantastic selection to choose from. In the PHB, you’ve got the choice of Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Tieflings and Dragonborn. Each race comes with its specific advantages and abilities. For instance: If you choose to play a Dragonborn character, depending on their color, you can breathe fire or lightning!

Once you’ve decided on your race, it’s time to pick your class. The classes to choose from are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard. Each of the classes has subclasses, all of which you can customize to fit your unique character!

Depending on the personality type of character you want to play, there will be a class better suited for them. You like being in the frontlines, taking damage and cutting down your enemies with a two-handed battle-axe? You would probably enjoy playing a Barbarian. Would you rather stealthily creep up behind them and do extra damage from a sneak attack? Rogue is the way to go for you!

Using Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves as an example, the horned woman from the trailer – played by Sophia Lillis – is Doric, a Tiefling Druid who casts the spell Wild Shape to transform into an Owlbear. Chris Pine’s character, Edgin, is a Human Bard. Regé-Jean Page’s character, Xenk Yendar, is a Human Paladin. Different classes, different characters, all on an adventure together!

Once you’ve chosen your character race and class, it’s time to roll your stats. Your character’s stats determine what they are particularly good or terrible at. You can either roll 4 D6’s and drop the lowest number or assign the numbers 15, 14, 13, 12, 10 and 8 to your abilities. A character’s abilities are divided by Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

I know it may sound a little confusing, but I promise it’s easier than you think. I recommend using this process to add more narrative levels to your character! If you’re playing a broad-shouldered, towering Half-Orc, you might want to put your highest number into your strength. If you’re a tiny, agile Halfling, your highest number may be best served in Dexterity!

These numbers will also determine your Armor Class and Health. As you fill out your character sheet, you’ll begin to see how everything builds on top of each other.

Your character is now built! They have a name, a backstory you’ve created, really cool armor and a face scar from that time they fought an adult Kraken. You’re ready to go!

The Time Has Come: Let’s Play!

The adventuring party has assembled around the table, the Dungeon Master peers over the top of their screen and you hear the famous words “You find yourselves in a lively, old tavern…” The adventure now begins and you’re in from one of the most special shared experiences one can partake in. The DM describes a world beyond our own, the players make choices and the dice decide if they succeed.

While it is still a game, the memories forged during these adventures feel incredibly real and I’m very excited for you to experience it. May your dice always roll high!

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.